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Hundreds Injured In Clashes Over Aid Shipments In Venezuela

Feb 24, 2019
Originally published on February 24, 2019 1:55 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We begin this hour in Venezuela. After a day of bloody clashes, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned the U.S. will take action. Vice President Mike Pence is headed to the region and will meet with Juan Guaido, the opposition lawmaker whom the U.S. recognizes as interim president. Guaido is calling for nations to consider all measures to oust President Nicolas Maduro. NPR's Eyder Peralta has been covering this story from the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. We'll get to him in a moment. But first, John Otis is at Santander Bridge, one of Colombia's crossings into Venezuela, where many of yesterday's confrontations took place. And he joins us from there now. John, good morning.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us - what is the scene there today?

OTIS: Well, it's a lot quieter than it was yesterday. The Colombian government has actually closed down the border to kind of take stock of what happened yesterday and try to get the bridge cleared off. There were aid trucks there that were burned yesterday that are still smoldering today as we speak. But the masses of people that filled this bridge yesterday are gone. I did run into about two dozen Venezuelan protesters. But they were pretty quickly scared off by the Venezuelan military. On the other side of the bridge, they shot off some tear gas and were actually throwing some rocks at the protesters. So it wasn't quite the violent scenes that we saw yesterday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Yesterday, the opposition tried to get aid into Venezuela. And they were blocked. The hope was that the military would allow them in and that this - their support from Maduro would crumble. But that didn't happen despite some defections. So where does that leave everyone?

OTIS: Well, Lulu, Juan Guaido is not calling for further efforts to get the supplies into Venezuela today. He's not telling people to go back and protest and try to force the aid in. There were hundreds of people who were injured yesterday. And people came away really quite demoralized about what happened. You know, it kind of seems like Juan Guaido and the opposition lost yesterday's aid battle. But again, the optics were really bad for the Maduro government. It's not often that you see aid trucks being set on fire when they're trying to get into a country where there are chronic shortages of food and medicine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what are you hearing from the Venezuelans on the Colombian side of the border that you've been able to speak with?

OTIS: Well, you know, some of them have just gotten, you know, more radical. And some are calling, you know, for a U.S. invasion or some kind of a foreign intervention to help them out. After the violence broke out yesterday, I met a young lawyer named Lizbeth (ph). She didn't want to give her full name because she still has a lot of family back in Venezuela. After losing her job, she came to Colombia with her husband and three children. And I met her under a bridge pouring sand, motor oil and gasoline into beer bottles. So here's this lawyer making Molotov cocktails to throw at the soldiers. And this is what she had to say.

LIZBETH: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: She told me that the violence is now necessary to liberate the country and that she was doing this on behalf of her children and that it's never too late to learn new skills.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Juan Guaido is meeting with Vice President Pence tomorrow in Colombia. Guaido is calling, as I said, for action, suggesting he might want military intervention. What do we know?

OTIS: Well, yes. Tomorrow, Guaido is scheduled to meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and other Latin American leaders to try to figure out, you know, what's the best way to go forward. Like Trump, Juan Guaido says, you know, we're now - we're not ruling out any options which kind of suggests that he would like some kind of an intervention. But while much of the international community has turned against Maduro and, you know, tries - is trying to help move in humanitarian aid, there's very little enthusiasm for military intervention in Venezuela.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. That's John Otis in Colombia. And now we are going to go to NPR's Eyder Peralta in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.

Eyder, what are you hearing there this morning about the meeting between the vice president and Guaido?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Well, you know, there was broad hope here that there would be some kind of swift resolution after yesterday - that Guaido would call for some sort of international action. But that didn't happen because Guaido seems to have put on the brakes a little bit, wanting more diplomacy. So I've heard a lot of disillusionment. But the government - it's worth noting - is jubilant. They believe they won this battle - that the coup, as they were calling this operation, has failed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've been talking to people there. What have they been telling you?

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, yesterday was a really interesting day here in Caracas because it was a huge planned confrontation. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched to La Carlota, which is an airbase in the middle of the city. And they were at the fence staring at the soldiers. And there, I met Sofia Torres (ph). She's 19, and she was just holding a poster at the fence - trying to get any of the soldiers to talk to them. I asked her if she ever expected to have been out here, to be here confronting soldiers. And let's listen to what she told me.

SOFIA TORRES: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: She was crying because she had given up on Venezuela. She had decided to leave in December. And Guaido declared himself president, and that gave her hope that things would change. And when I spoke to her, she was 100 percent sure that they could make reasoned arguments and that the military would side with the opposition.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But that didn't happen.

PERALTA: No, not in Caracas. Here they came out in ski masks as the crowd started thinning. And they started taking pictures and eventually started giving people the middle finger. And at one point, Collectivo, which is a paramilitary group here in Venezuela, they zoomed past on motorcycles, and everyone started running. One protester, Mayling Keisling (ph) started asking the other protesters - how does this end? When does it end? Let's listen to her.

MAYLING KEISLING: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: So she says "tens of thousands of Venezuelans didn't manage to change a single mind at that airfield." So what are they supposed to do?" she asked. She felt alone and at a loss as to what comes next.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I guess that is the big question. What does come next? How does this end? Is there a sense of that?

PERALTA: We don't know anything for sure. But, you know, they're meeting. The leaders from the Americas are meeting. And there is a sense that Guaido will begin a process to ask for international help.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Caracas, John Otis from Cucuta in Colombia - thank you both so very much.

PERALTA: Gracias, Lulu.

OTIS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.